Compromise measures - Page 2

Housing and business tax propositions don't solve the city's problems, but both sides say they're the best we can expect

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A pair of fall ballot measures would spur affordable housing development in San Francisco.
PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN/SF NEWSPAPER CO.

The affordability gap between housing and wages in the city is stark. Somebody spending a quarter of their income on rent would need to be making $85,000 a year just to keep up with the average studio. With a mean wage of $64,820 in the San Francisco metro area, even middle class San Franciscans have a difficult time affording a modest apartment. For the city's lowest paid workers, even earning the country's highest minimum wage of $10.25 an hour, even devoting every earned dollar to rent still wouldn't pay for the average small studio apartment.

For those looking to buy a home in the city, it can be a huge hurdle to put aside a down payment while keeping up with the city's high rents. Almost 90 percent of San Franciscans cannot afford a market rate home in the city. The average San Francisco home price was up 1.9 percent in June over May, climbing to $713,500, or a leap of $50,000 per unit over last year's prices.

In the 2010 census, before the recent boom in the local real estate market, San Francisco already ranked third in the nation for worst ratio between income and home ownership prices, behind Honolulu and Santa Cruz.

But as the city leadership grapples to mitigate the tech boom's effects, the lingering recession and conservative opposition to new taxes have gutted state and federal funds for affordable housing. Capped off last December by the California Legislature's decision to dissolve the State Redevelopment Agency, a major source of money for creating affordable housing, San Francisco has seen a drop of $56 million in annual affordable housing funds since 2007.

Trying to address dwindling funding for affordable housing, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 on July 24 to place the Affordable Housing Trust Fund measure on the fall ballot. Only the most conservative supervisors, Sups. Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu, opposed the proposal. Sup. Mark Farrell, who has signaled his support for the measure, was absent.

"Creating a permanent source of revenue to fund the production of housing in San Francisco will ensure that San Francisco is a viable place to live and work for everyone, at every level of the economic spectrum. I applaud the Board of Supervisors," Mayor Lee said in response.

At the heart of the program, the city hopes to create 9,000 new units of affordable housing over 30 years. The measure would set aside money to help stabilize the ongoing foreclosure crisis and replenish the funds of a down payment assistance program for those earning 80 to 120 percent of the median income.

To do so, the city anticipates spending $1.2 billion over the 30-year lifespan of the program, with a $20 million annual contribution the first year increasing $2.5 million annually in subsequent years. It would fold some existing funding in with new revenue sources, including $13 million yearly from the business tax reform measure. Language in the housing fund measure would allow Mayor Lee to veto it is the business tax reform measure fails.

The board was forced to delay consideration of the business tax measure until July 31 because of changes in the freshly merged measures. That meeting was after Guardian press time, although with nine co-sponsors on the board, its passage seemed assured even before the Budget and Legislative Analysts Office had not yet assessed its impacts, as Campos requested on July 24.

"I do believe that we have to ask certain questions when a proposal of this magnitude comes forward," Campos said at the hearing, later adding, "When you have a proposal of this magnitude, you're not going to be able to adjust it for some time, so you want it to be right."